As excited as Bruce Boudreau may be about the NHL’s All-Star weekend, he hasn’t allowed himself to think much about it. “When you’re sitting at home, and your son’s getting his autograph book out, yeah,’’ said the Wild coach, who will be behind the Central Division bench in Sunday’s All-Star Game. “But I don’t even know who’s on our team, except [Ryan Suter and Devan Dubnyk].’’
Boudreau hopes his players are anchored just as firmly in the present. The Wild has one game remaining before this weekend’s All-Star break, on Thursday against St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center. No matter the result, the team will enter the break with at least a share of first place in the Western Conference — but as the Wild’s fortunes have risen, so have its expectations.
After an optional practice Wednesday, several players brushed off questions about their plans for the All-Star break. With one more opportunity to add to their point total before the long weekend, they didn’t want to let their minds drift.
“It’s one thing to be here right now and to get to this spot,’’ forward Charlie Coyle said. “But it’s another thing to stay there, and to be there come playoff time and get that home ice. That’s something we want to do, and something we’re capable of.
“We want to get as many points as we can. It will be good for us to get a mental and physical break. But we’ve got to take care of [Thursday’s] game, and that’s our focus right now.’’
A dozen players were on the ice for Wednesday’s practice, with many veterans taking the day off. Suter and Dubnyk took the opportunity to get a bit of rest before a busy weekend in Los Angeles, where they will participate in the All-Star Game. Some players will head home — including Coyle, who plans to spend the break in his native Boston — and others will stay in the Twin Cities to enjoy some family time.
Boudreau said he wished his players would stay at home and watch TV during their time off. He didn’t expect that to happen, but he hopes they set hockey aside for a few days — just long enough, he said, to miss the game and renew their enthusiasm before the grind of the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
They have plenty to look forward to. After 47 games, the Wild holds a two-point lead on Chicago at the top of the Western Conference. It has never led the conference this late in the season; its previous best was during 2011-12, when it was in first place on Dec. 17 after 33 games.
Despite some inconsistent play in January, the Wild is 8-2-1 this month. Boudreau said he isn’t concerned about a recent inability to hold leads; five times in the past seven games, the Wild has lost leads of two or more goals, rallying to win three of those.
“If we keep teams to two goals or less, then that’s fine,’’ the coach said. “You’d like to be perfect and say we can shut the door down all the time, but it doesn’t always happen. When we do have a lead and [the opponent] starts putting a push on is when we’ve got to be a little bit better at recognizing it, and then being able to stop it.’’
Coyle credited Boudreau with keeping the Wild tightly focused on the game at hand. That will be especially important Thursday, forward Nino Niederreiter said — no matter how tempting it may be to look ahead to the All-Star break.
“This game is really key for us, so we can go into the break with a good feeling,’’ Niederreiter said. “We know we have a couple of tough months ahead of us to get into the playoffs. The key is to make sure we don’t let our foot off the gas.’’